Posted October 28, 2016
In its first life, Anadarko’s Red Hawk floating oil platform began production in 2004 in 5,300 feet of water in the Gulf of Mexico, about 200 miles south of Lafayette, La. Ten years later, it began its second life – as an artificial reef that is now home for thousands of fish. Check out this video of Red Hawks’ “reefing”:
For the oil and gas industry, former buildings, facilities, well pads and rigs often hold promise of a second life for both local communities and the environment, whether it’s turning an offshore rig into an artificial reef, reclaiming an onshore drill site or repurposing a building or port to fit a variety of socially beneficial needs. All are examples of industry’s commitment to being a responsible neighbor on land and in the sea.
Converting Rigs to Reefs
Anadarko’s Red Hawk facility is part of a program known as Rigs to Reefs. Under the program, more than 450 platforms have been converted into permanent artificial reefs, providing homes for millions of fish and other marine life. According to a study by the Coastal Marine Institute, a converted eight-leg rig can be a home for 12,000 to 14,000 fish. Likewise, a four-leg rig provides 2 to 3 acres of marine habitat. Meanwhile, a study from the University of California-Santa Barbara found that completely removing offshore rigs can be detrimental for some heavily fished species, as many have adopted the rig and the safety it offers as a home.
Among the leaders in the pack for turning decommissioned offshore rigs into artificial reefs is Chevron. Since 1983, the company has donated 74 structures to Rigs to Reefs programs in states along the Gulf of Mexico, including Louisiana and Mississippi. Each of these new reefs creates an ecosystem that can become home to thousands of invertebrates (like shrimp) as well as fish.
Repurposing Property and Buildings
While the conversion of rigs into artificial reefs literally takes the structure beneath the surface, the industry is also active in repurposing its more visible land-based properties and facilities. This provides economic benefits for local communities and helps give a new purpose to places that might otherwise sit underutilized.
At BP, this includes working with state and local leaders in New Jersey in redeveloping the company’s former terminal at the Port of Paulsboro. To do this, BP worked with local governments to transform the site, which it purchased in 1969, from a brownfield into a commercial port, bringing much-needed jobs and revenue into the area. In addition to providing early funding for project planning and feasibility studies, BP entered into a 99-year agreement to lease the property to the Borough of Paulsboro for $1 a year. In 2014, the Port of Paulsboro began welcoming its first commercial tenants.
Aware of the need for a strong remediation, reclamation and asset retirement program, Chevron established the Chevron Environmental Management Co. (EMC) in 1998. One example of the EMC’s work is the redevelopment of a piece of property at the company’s former Louisville, Ky., lubricants plant. The EMC provided oversight in the project, protecting public health and ensuring the use of solar-powered technologies in the remediation work, which turned the property into a student parking lot for the University of Louisville.
Taking Industry to Nature
Like Rigs to Reefs, the industry also is active in restoring sustainable natural habitats on land-based properties. These programs strive to take sites that formerly served as energy production facilities and completing reclamation efforts so they can more fully benefit local ecosystems and wildlife.
At Devon Energy, reclamation efforts are ongoing at several sites across North America. In Wyoming, the company facilitates annual habitat reclamation projects with the Wyoming Conservation Corps. In New Mexico’s Permian Basin, Devon works on habitat reclamation and enhancement programs, which have included protecting endangered wildlife like the dunes sagebrush lizard.
In Harris County, Texas, ExxonMobil saw an opportunity for a former drill site to serve as a buffer for an inland waterfowl rookery. The company donated the 5 acres of land adjacent to the rookery for stewardship by the Armand Bayou Nature Center. This donation helps to protect an area that serves as a sheltered breeding spot for herons, egrets, spoonbills and other species of coastal water birds.
For more than 15 years, Glenn Springs Holding, Inc. has been working to clean up the Copper River Basin in southeastern Tennessee. Glenn Springs, a wholly owned subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum, manages remediation programs for the company. The Copper River Basin, one of its largest projects, is the site of a former copper and sulfur mine, in addition to many other industrial activities. In 2001, Glenn Springs reached an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. Together, they are working to clean up the site and restore its natural beauty and environment for future visitors.
Well Pad Management and Reclamation
Many drilling operations produce water and cuttings that come up from the wellbore. (Learn more about how industry reuses produced water from its operations.) Anadarko has found that many farmers in Colorado can use that material to fertilize their fields. Anadarko’s Korby Bracken:
“The solids are very rich in nutrients – they’ve been below the surface of the earth for a number of years – and so there’s a lot of inherent nutrient with them. The farmers around here like for us to apply it to their farmland. We’ve found that here in Colorado and especially as you move further east in the Wattenberg Basin, the soils are very sandy; they don’t hold water very well; the wind starts blowing and so does the soil. So by integrating in these cuttings, it really provides nutrients for crops, but it also provides stabilization material for holding the soil together and also for retaining water. Farmers don’t have to irrigate as much. … The cuttings – we actually pay them to take it. They want it, and we’ll go out there and we’ll spread it for them. Sometimes we’ll even incorporate it for them. And then we give them a fee to take it. So it’s a win-win-win, if you will.”
Bracken said if there is an excess of wellbore material, the company has land where the material can be applied. The company plants barley or other crops that produce straw, which can be used to hold moisture when well pads are being reclaimed.
In cases where historic spills may have occurred on a site, Anadarko takes impacted soil to its farm and spreads it out so that nature can consume the hydrocarbon. Bracken:
“We’ll give it some nutrients if we need to, whether it be fertilizer or turkey manure or other animal manure, just to help drive the bacterial degradation. We’ll test it, and once it becomes clean soil we use it for backfill on an excavation …”
When a well goes into production, companies start interim reclamation at the well site. When a well no longer is able to produce economic quantities of oil and natural gas, companies plug the well with cement and start final reclamation of the site. This process is typically conducted in compliance with an agreement between a company and surface and mineral rights owners, which was set long before drilling starts. Local, state and/or federal regulatory requirements may also apply. Shell’s Michael Bergstrom:
“We make a commitment that we will bring the property back as close to the prior condition as is reasonably possible, subject to the agreement with the surface owner. In some cases, the surface owner says, well, this was an agricultural field, I want you to bring it back to agricultural use, so I need to have it leveled and top soil returned to where it was. … If it was in a native area, he may simply say leave the road behind, recontour and reshape the land surface and the structure around the drill pad.”
Once a site goes into production, companies reduce their presence to just the area needed for production, which is a fraction of the acreage used during drilling. Often, reclamation performance bonds have been taken out, so there’s incentive to reshape the site and plant vegetation requested by the surface owner. Top soil that was saved before drilling began is returned and planting begins. Anadarko’s Colleen Faber:
“From an ecological sense, the building part, the initial evaluation of sites and the reservation of top soil is really a big deal. … We know meticulously where we’re taking top soil and how deep, and that’s stabilized immediately because that’s like the gold of our site.”
Listening to the Community
Wherever industry operates, developing a partnership with nearby communities long before operations commence is critically important. There’s two-way conversation – companies explaining the nature of a project, as well as listening to and responding to community concerns. Faber:
“I think [the community] gets this assurance that, you know, these people care. We stand up behind what we say. When they see that happen and, when they see there’s someone who’s only a phone call away and you respond, they have a real good comfort level knowing that you’re … going to take care of any issues that come up.”
Bracken said companies have more at stake than simply developing oil and gas:
“We live in the same communities that everybody else does. Our kids go to the same schools; our kids breathe the same air; we breathe the same air. We want to help protect it. It allows us to be that good neighbor, the operator of choice. The terms that are used now are the ‘social license to operate.’ That’s really what we try to do every single day – continue to earn that social license to operate and operate with as minimum of impact to the surrounding community as possible.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kate Wallace is an associate of research and content development for the American Petroleum Institute. Before joining API she was a researcher and policy analyst at America’s Natural Gas Alliance, and worked on pollinator conservation programs and state wildlife conservation policies before entering the energy industry. Kate graduated from the University of Connecticut with a bachelor’s degree in Resource Economics, and earned her Master of Public Administration from George Mason University. She loves taking her dogs on hikes, travelling and navigating the northern Virginia/DC craft beer and wine scenes with her friends and family.